Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, Norvell DeAtkine. Questions and Mr. Campbell’s answers are transcribed below.
Norvell DeAtkine is a retired U.S. Army Colonel of the field artillery with service in Germany, Korea and Vietnam. He lived and worked in the Arab World for nearly nine years, graduating from the Arab Studies Program at the American University of Beirut. He later served as an advisor to the Jordanian and Egyptian Armies and conducted many short training missions for various Gulf Armies, including his operation as a liaison to the British Trucial Oman Scouts prior to British departure from the Gulf.
Mr. DeAtkine was a seminar director with the Regional Studies program at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School for over eighteen years where he primarily taught special operations officers — which included two short tours as a mentor with psychological operations units in Iraq. Other assignments have included stints with the analytical branch of the CIA, Iraqi Intelligence cell of the DIA and the USMC Cultural Studies Center at Quantico.
André de Vries: Do you think the “caliphate” proclaimed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Iraq is maintainable in the long run?
Answer: I feel more confident writing about the past than I do about the future, but as history replays itself so often in the Arab world, I can write on the historical aspects that will likely come into play at some point.
My bottom line upfront is that the “Islamic State” as it exits today will not have a long lifespan. It is, in the words of Fouad Ajami (writing about other Arab grand schemes), “The Dream Palace of the Arabs,” another grandiose movement like pan-Arabism that has no foundation in reality. As the noted Arab journalist Hisham Melhem puts it in a recent article in Al-Arabiya,
One does not know whether to laugh or to cry at the sight of the self-proclaimed Caliph Ibrahim addressing the Muslim Umma [community] as its new righteous ruler. This is the man who is straddling a large swath of Iraq and Syria, and imposing a primitive form of an absolute intolerant religious rule that intimidate Muslims and terrifies Christians. For years to come, we will be asking: how did we reach such a nadir? How did it happen? How did we engulf ourselves in this endless darkness?
Perhaps more importantly, the new Islamic State has little in the way of economic resources and will be surrounded by enemies and peoples fearful of its expansion. First of all, the ISIS brand of Islam is not popular, not even among the Sunnis, nor even other radical groups of Islamists for whom they claim their leadership. Much of its expansion in Syria and Iraq has been based on the unpopularity of the existing governments. Now having assumed control of this territory, they must administer it. It is easier to conquer than govern. Many observers have opined that Islamists in power are the best cure for their pretensions. Although one cannot compare the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt to the ISIS, nevertheless the inability to govern on slogans like “Islam is the Answer” has been borne out in the case of Egypt.
ISIS is a movement with no real program to govern and as a movement they, like all similar totalitarian movements, must expand or die. They will not and cannot be satisfied with simply the expanse of mostly desert they control in Syria and Iraq. The surrounding governments know this and belatedly some like Turkey and Saudi Arabia have realized the genie is out of the box. The governmental support previously (however covert it has been) coming from elements inside both Saudi Arabia and Turkey will end and the implacable hostility of Iran, the Kurds and the Shia and Alawi of Syria and Iraq will always pose an existential threat to the Islamic State.
Little noticed, along the Turkish-Islamic State border, the great majority of people are the Alevis of Turkey. They form a large minority in turkey. They are an offshoot of Shia Islam and have never taken kindly to the oppressive Sunnism of the Turkish government and hate the Islamist movement, which in the Arab world has always been Sunni-oriented.
Looking at history, I am unconvinced that the Sykes-Picot division of the Arab world into states is dead. Despite the fact that the Arab elite has always portrayed it as the reason for the weakness of the Arab world, the regimes have shed enormous amounts of blood to keep the borders intact.
The tentacles of the state apparatus in so many areas of human life are very difficult to uproot.
For these reasons, I do not see a long life for the “Islamic” State. (more…)